Insights from Effective Churches on New Member Classes and Assimilation Findings from a national study to improve membership classes and to motivate current members into active ministry How do churches move members—both old and new— into ministry? Many church staff and lay leaders know they need to start new member classes as a point of entry into their churches but don’t know how. This book is based on a national study of effective churches and shows how growing churches implement new member classes and motivate their members into ministry. Membership Matters is designed to be a guide for church leaders wanting to start or improve a membership class. It includes models for classes and examples of resources such as church covenants, class schedules, and lesson outlines. It also gives direction on motivating uninvolved members to participate in ministry. One chapter chronicles an ongoing discussion among pastors of growing churches that are effectively motivating members to do ministry.
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Chuck Lawless is professor and senior associate dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served as a pastor for almost twenty years, and is the author of Spiritual Warfare: Biblical Truth for Victory, Discipled Warriors: Healthy Churches Winning Spiritual Warfare, Making Disciples through Mentoring, Serving in Your Church's Prayer Ministry, and Eating the Elephant. Dr. Lawless speaks extensively around the country.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 1 The Challenge Moving Attenders into Membership and Ministry Paul attended First Church every Sunday morning. In fact, he had joined the church and was one of the most consistent worship attenders in his congregation. Other church members often commented on how faithful Paul and his family were. Yet, despite his perceived faithfulness, Paul wasn't involved in the church's ministry. He was gifted and talented, but Sunday morning worship attendance was his limit. Paul was what we call in this study an 'uninvolved member.' Sitting across the aisle from Paul were the Staffords, a young couple seeking a church home. They enjoyed the worship at First, and their children were fitting in well in the Sunday school classes. In fact, they were just waiting for someone to explain to them the church's process for membership. While they waited, they remained only attenders. Across town, three uninvolved believers sat faithfully in their own pews. Reba was a new member who really wanted to get involved in the church. She was waiting for someone to ask for her help, but no one did. John was a long-standing member who had decided several years ago that it was time 'for the younger people to carry the load in the church.' Sterling simply attended the church; actually joining wasn't in his plans. On any given Sunday, uninvolved churchgoers sit in almost every congregation in America. In some cases, they are like the Staffords and Reba---ready and willing, just waiting for leaders to direct them and give them an opportunity. Sometimes they are like Sterling. They are faithful to attend Sunday morning worship. They write a check each week to support the church. Ask them about their church, and they'll gladly tell you, 'We go to such and such church.' Yet, they never join. In still other cases, they are like Paul and John. They have signed the membership rolls of the church. What they don't do, though, is get involved. Attendance does not lead to action. Church is more about receiving than giving, more about coming than going, and more about being served than serving. The good news, however, is that these attenders and uninvolved members are potential sitting in a pew. That's one of the reasons our team wanted to do this study. I assume you are a church leader who has faced some of these situations. You must want to move people into membership and ministry, because you've chosen to read this book. Whether you are trying to develop an effective membership process or simply trying to motivate those who remain uninvolved, this book is for you. THE BACKGROUND OF THIS STUDY For the last decade, our research teams at the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth have been studying evangelistic churches in America. Two of these studies, led by Thom Rainer, indicated the significance of membership classes in growing churches.1 This study began as a much more detailed look at these classes and, as you will see, then moved in a new direction. CHURCH LEADERSHIP SURVEYS There were three components to this research project. Our research team, which was led by Brandon Conner at the time, first sent a survey about membership classes to 150 growing churches (see appendix 14 for a copy of the survey). The questions addressed these kinds of topics: * Does the church have a membership class? Is it required? * Who teaches the class? * What curriculum is used? * What obstacles did the church face in starting a membership class? * Who attends the class? Seventy-one churches responded, with fifty-two (73 percent of those responding) indicating they had a membership class (table 1). The churches were primarily Southern Baptist, but four other groups were also represented in the survey responses: Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, Wesleyan, and independent community churches. The Sunday morning worship average attendances were fairly evenly distributed. Table 1 CHURCHES STUDIED Size of the Number of churches Percentage of the church with a new member total number class (NMC) of churches Under 100 1 2 101 to 250 17 33 251 to 500 13 25 501 to 1,000 11 21 1,001 and up 10 19 TOTAL 52 100 Twenty-one states were represented in the survey, including states from the South, the Midwest, the Northwest, the West, and the East Coast. In most cases, the membership class began under the leadership of the current pastor. All but three of the pastors were full-time, with an average tenure of 8.9 years at the church. Table 2 lists the names used for the classes in these churches. Though certainly not original or creative, 'new member class' was the name most frequently used. Table 2E OF NEW MEMBER CLASS Class name Number of churches New Member Class 24 Discovering ___ Church/Class 101 16 Foundations 2 Basic Christian Education 1 Back to the Basics 1 More Than a Member 1 New Christian Study Group 1 RighTrack 1 Inquiry Class 1 Members on Mission 1 First Class 1 Welcome to the Family 1 Member Information Class 1 CLASS MEMBER SURVEYS AND INTERVIEWS In addition to surveying church leaders, our research team surveyed seventy-one laypersons who had attended membership classes at their churches (see appendix 15 for a copy of the survey). We asked questions like, 'What did you find most beneficial about the class? Least beneficial? Do you believe a membership class should be required for all members? Are you still active in your church?' These surveys gave us insights the leadership survey didn't give. In fact, as you will see, sometimes the leaders and class members had different opinions about the classes. Research team leader Matthew Spradlin sought to get more information from the class members by personally contacting many of them via telephone or email. Their opinions about the classes were fascinating. As an example, consider the words of Deanna, who was a Christian for thirty-four years before she ever attended a membership class: 'As a thirteen-year-old [when she became a Christian], I never attended a new member class. . . . [Now, having taken the class] I enjoyed and appreciated the class. I think the new member class should be offered and available for everyone---as new members or as a refresher course for any length of time as a Christian. Taking part in this class helps a person feel more like a member or a part of the local church.' You will see that other laypersons had similar opinions. In fact, all seventy-one class members we surveyed said that potential and current members should attend membership classes. AN ADDITIONAL DIRECTION In the course of our study, we heard this question over and over again: 'We've got a membership class, but we struggle overall with getting other members involved. What do we do about the current members who aren't doing ministry?' Other pastors who had heard about our study also told us about faithful attenders who simply never joined. So often did we hear these concerns that we knew this study needed to take an additional turn.
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